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How Acupuncture Helps Weight Loss

Patients often come into my clinic inquiring whether acupuncture can help weight loss, and the go-to response I’ve come to develop is: “Can water put out fire?” It isn’t to sound arrogant or offer some professionally irresponsible guarantee of results, but instead quite the opposite intention of shining a light on the disparity between theoretical objectivity and reality. Acupuncture is medicine – not magic. I follow up that aforementioned rhetorical with: “Yes, we all know water puts out fire, right? But how many buckets of water will it take to put out a house fire?”

Everyone is different. Everyone’s weight problem varies in severity and duration. Everyone’s lifestyle and dietary habits are different from one another, and obviously 20 treatments over 20 weeks will yield better results than six or seven.

Acupuncture (and herbs) can help with weight loss, first by reducing the body’s inflammation and/or fluid accumulation, also by increasing overall circulation, finally strengthening the metabolism, or “tonifying the stomach/spleen qi,” as we say. Depending on how longstanding someone’s imbalances are this can take months and often has to be sequenced in such stages, i.e:

Reduce inflammation for several treatments Increase circulation for the next several Boost overall metabolic functioning
Here’s the awful, gut-wrenching caveat for some: If poor dietary habits or lack of exercise continue over the course of treatment it’s basically like treating someone for chronic bronchitis as they continue to smoke cigarettes. Acupuncture and herbs might initially work and temporarily stave off further weight gain, but bad habits will ultimately cancel out their efficacy.

The Chinese Medicine perspective on diet is similar to that of most other holistic schools of thought, in that it encourages maximizing water, green vegetables and healthy fats, and minimizing sugar, carbs and fried foods; with one key difference:

Things like sandwiches, protein bars, smoothies or juices are regarded as not “real food,” not really eating, and at least once a week I have to turn some poor patient’s world upside down by advising them to eat less salad.

“Less salad??!!?!” they exclaim, as it apparently takes everything within them to not flee from their seat, B-line it back to the front desk, demand a refund, denounce my clinic on Yelp and all of Chinese Medicine to everyone they know, and take a day off to recuperate from shock while devouring iceberg lettuce, cucumbers and cold, practically impossible to metabolize raw carrots. Yuck.

Salad is okay in moderation, more so in summer months than winter, also better if consumed in conjunction with hot food; but we prefer patients consume cooked greens, especially those trying to lose weight. Chinese Medicine does not believe that steaming, sautéing or roasting foods cooks out their nutrients, but instead makes them easier to digest, hence the nutrients more absorbable, hence more usable, which logically leads to a stronger and healthier vessel. Ice constricts blood vessels, which inhibits circulation, which slows metabolism and leads to the kind of sludge that forms inflammation in the gut. This scientific truth applies not only to literal ice, but any cold temperatures in the stomach: Cold drinks and uncooked foods are considered not as strengthening and slower to move, which leads to less movement, i.e. weight gain. Not to mention the fact that we should be consuming minimal to no beverages during meals, as they dilute the stomach acid requisite for proper digestion. Drinking should be reserved for well before or after eating and should be relatively consistent with our body temperatures of 98.6 degrees. Two things you usually see a lot of in Asian restaurants: Hot tea and thin people.